Dishin’ With Chefs: Restaurant Eve’s Cathal Armstrong
In September, Restaurant Eve chef-owner Cathal Armstrong made waves when he announced that his flagship Old Town restaurant, which is about to enter its second decade, would receive an overhaul. The once multifaceted experience with many menus - including one for the tasting room, one for the bistro and another at the bar - would be pared down and replaced by a unified, redecorated dining room.
In addition, the chef declared he would return full time to the kitchen of Eve after years of expanding his empire with places like Eamonn’s, Bar TNT, Society Fair and The Majestic. (He’s also been busy spending more time with his family, working on the cookbook My Irish Table - to be released this spring - and earning his black belt in taekwondo.)
We caught up with Armstrong recently to ask how the tweaks have been received and to find out what diners can expect the next time they visit.
What kinds of changes were made to the concept?
We have had two separate dining rooms since we opened - we had the bistro and the tasting room. We basically made all of the menus available in all of the restaurant. We’ve made it so that you can do a tasting menu in the bar, if you like. That’s just something I think people have wanted for a while.
How has the dining room changed?
In the bistro, we were using stainless steel [utensils], and in the tasting room, we were using silver. Now we’re using silver in the whole restaurant. In the bistro, we were using rented linens, but we owned our own high-end linens for the bistro - and now we’ve got those in the whole restaurant. So we elevated the tabletop and painted the restaurant and did a few other decorative improvements.
How has the menu changed?
I do feel that my influence dwindled over the last year or so, and mostly what I have driven us back to is what we earned a big part of our reputation for - which is locally sourced, environmentally driven [food]. I prefer to write the menu based on the food that we have rather than ordering food to cover what’s on the menu. Before, we reserved higher-end ingredients for the tasting room, and now things like venison and caviar and partridge are finding their way onto the à la carte menu. We changed our fish supplier back to who we were using when I was here.
Where is former chef de cuisine Jeremy Hoffman headed?
He is opening his own place in Annapolis. He’s leaving on December 21 to open his own place on Main Street called Preserve. He’s a very talented chef. One to watch.
How have things changed for you?
I’m back running the kitchen every day. The last year and a half I spent opening too many restaurants and writing a cookbook. So we’re pulling the reins in a bit, and I’m back where I belong at Restaurant Eve.
What are some things that have stayed the same?
Lickity Split [lunch special] is definitely still here. We have a three-course menu, which is à la carte; we have a five-course tasting menu that changes every day; and the chef’s choice surprise menu. So those things haven’t changed. People can expect the same quality and standard that we’ve earned our reputation for, and a very often-changing menu. I took pretty much all of the signature dishes off the menu, like the steak tartare we were known for. Osetra, oysters and onions - it was time to give that one a rest. Still, the cooking is the same. They’re replaced by dishes that are equally good.
How have people reacted to the changes?
Every time you change things, people panic and freak out. But as far as I can tell so far, everybody is loving what we’re doing. I’m loving it - that’s the most important thing! If I’m loving it, it passes along to everyone else.
What’s next for you and the restaurant group?
The cookbook comes out in March, so that will be a busy period for me. I’ll have to do some kind of book tour. Ultimately, my focus right now is on Restaurant Eve, and I don’t have any time to do anything else at the moment. Maybe an Irish pub down the road.
What’s your favorite season for cooking?
Right now. Fall is really when all of the bounty of the earthy flavors are around, and that’s usually going to be more exciting for chefs. There’s a glut of produce in summer - and while they’re fun, they’re lighter. Spring is fun at the beginning - we get asparagus and peas and morels. But that season is really short-lived, and then we’re in for a long season of more tomatoes, more tomatoes, more tomatoes.
What is your favorite fall ingredient?
Venison. The venison that’s in season right now with parsnips and huckleberries - things that grow together go together.
What is your go-to drink at a bar?
Amstel Light. (Laughs.) I like refreshing, tasteless, cold beer.